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  Thursday, 7 March, 2002, 16:54 GMT
The three wise men
Charlie Swan in action on Istabraq at the end of last year
JP McManus' Istabraq is back at Cheltenham this year
Paul Castles looks at three owners whose horses have dominated the National Hunt Festival in recent years.

Most owners of a National Hunt horse may dare dream of leading one of their charges into the hallowed Cheltenham Festival winners' enclosure once in their lifetime.

But for the high rollers of the turf, it is an annual occurrence that can be pencilled in the diary as confidently as Christmas and filling in the tax return - top band of course!

In recent years three owners have dominated the jumps game - their only worry finding a dresser sturdy enough to withstand the silver mountain of trophies received as mementoes of races won.

Introducing Sir Robert Ogden, David Johnson and JP McManus, the latter universally heralded as the Sundance Kid after his early explosive exploits in the betting ring.

JP McManus
Istabraq is not JP's only hope this year
JP McManus

JP, Limerick's favourite son, started out as an on-course bookmaker before stepping up a notch to operate as a currency dealer on the global stage.

While his brothers still trade at the family bookmaker's pitch, JP surveys his dynasty from his opulent residence overlooking Lake Geneva.

As a tax exile, his visits to the family home near Kilmallock are restricted but when they are made, JP just revs up his own private jet.

His distinctive racing colours of green and yellow hoops have become as synonymous with Cheltenham as the black stuff downed with such enthusiasm by his countrymen.

The whole of Ireland cherishes JP's three-times Champion Hurdler Istabraq, trained at Ballydoyle by Aidan O'Brien, the bookish-looking trainer blessed with genius in his handling of horses.

Despite Istabraq's failure to enter the record books, JP enjoyed an amazingly successful Festival right from the off with victory for Like-A-Butterfly in the Supreme Novices' Hurdle.

Sir Robert Ogden with jockey Mick Fitzgerald
Ogden knows a top prospect when he sees one
Sir Robert Ogden

While any JP winner is guaranteed a raucous Irish reception, Ogden is a more reserved figure but no less powerful when it comes to the acquisition of top jumping prospects.

The champion owner for the past three seasons, not only does Ogden figure in the annual Sunday Times Rich List but he's nearer the top than the bottom with a wealth estimated in the region of 100 million.

Ogden literally built up his fortune from the rubble of his demolition business and is now at the helm of several Yorkshire-based property firms.

Tony McCoy on Wahiba Sands chats to owner David Johnson in November 2001
Wahiba Sands could do the business for Johnson
David Johnson

Johnson's colours have been seen regularly in the Cheltenham winners' enclosure in recent years carried with distinction by such notable chasers as Challenger Du Luc and Cyfor Malta.

The son of an East End docker, this former bank clerk last year set a new record for the top purchase price at a horses in auction sale in France, forking out 340,000 for a prospect called Magnus.

Magnus has yet to justify his hefty price tag while other big buys Stormez and Londoner have also failed to inspire confidence so far.

No matter, Johnson a highly likeable individual whose empire has been built on his money lending company, can win back such sums in the betting ring once he spots the opportunity to strike.

Most of his horses are stabled in Somerset with champion trainer Martin Pipe and therefore secure the services of champion jockey AP McCoy.

Cheltenham stages its big jump race meeting from 12-14 March

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